The Boston Marathon wasn't just another race for me. I'd wanted to run it since I was 16 years old. Here's how my dream came true.
As we entered the marathon expo my heart was pounding it’s way out of my chest. My body was tingling numb. I had completely zoned out the hundreds of runners around me … even my husband who was tapping me on the shoulder saying, “What is your number?” Holding back tears I said, “17275.” I have picked up hundreds of race bibs and this was not just another race. I had been waiting since 2014 to pick up this race bib. Oh no! Rewind that thought. I have been waiting 17 years to pick up this race bib. The volunteer asked me for my photo ID and asked, “Is this your first Boston?” Wiping a tear from my eye, slightly embarrassed, I happily replied, “YES!”
Unless you know me personally, you would never know it’s been a dream of mine to run Boston since I was 16 years old. My first attempt was the Chicago Marathon in 2008. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing for that race. I winged it through training, finishing in 3:49. Bummed that I didn’t “BQ”,” but happy that I could officially call myself a marathoner. I then felt the pain of my first major running injury; IT band syndrome and bursitis in my knee that left me unable to run for six months.
I swore off the marathon distance for quite some time. In 2012, my second attempt at 26.2 didn’t happen because mother nature had other plans. Hurricane Sandy broke the hearts of NYC and marathoners from around the world, which led me to signing up for my first international race, the 2013 Paris Marathon. Once again an injury sidelined me a month before the race. I still ran and finished 4:15, nowhere near a BQ.
That fall I ran my first NYC Marathon. I went into the race feeling very confident about a BQ because I had had my strongest marathon training cycle to-date. I missed the BQ by 34 seconds. My heart shattered after that race. I cried for days and sobbed for nights. I truly felt I had pushed my body beyond its limits and fought with my heart, yet it wasn’t good enough.
Several days later I signed up for the 2014 LA Marathon. I wanted nothing more than to redeem myself and have my victory BQ race. I felt I was in the best shape of my life. I wanted to take advantage of that. Once again, mother nature took control of the day with not one cloud in the sky and scorching 80 degree temperatures. I knew pretty early into the race that a BQ wasn’t going to be possible. I finished with a time of 3:37. Los Angeles crushed me. I felt defeated. I was physically exhausted and mentally broken. I felt I wasn’t good enough. I doubted myself and was beginning to give up on my dream of running the Boston Marathon.
Getting ready for the Boston Marathon
I got married that summer and allowed myself to take a break from the intensity of running. After recharging my batteries on my honeymoon, I was ready to take on the NYC Marathon one more time. I pushed myself beyond every limit I knew my body could take. I woke up earlier, ran further and faster. I used every single memory of my failed attempts at BQing as my fuel. Making the decision that I would suck it up and stop crying like a baby and make my dreams of running Boston Marathon mine! Finally in November of 2014 I qualified for the Boston marathon with a time of 3 hours and 30 minutes. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. Life is the ultimate marathon. The time in between races is when we grow and change into the people God created us to be. It taught me that if you want something bad enough you have to put your big girl pants on and be willing to pay the price for it.
I took a long break from the marathon distance to focus on my strength and speed. I decided that I would not run a marathon in 2015, but focus on my favorite distance running half marathons. I did exactly that and set a new personal half marathon record 1:31 at the 2015 Thames River Half Marathon just outside London. I even took first place woman at the Lola Challenge in Puerto Rico; a series of back to back races consisting of 5k, 10K and half marathon. Took 2nd place in a Halloween 10K in Manhattan. Then took 3rd Place at the Trenton, NJ Half Marathon. I was having the best racing season of my life.
That’s when I started to feel the most awful pain in my hip and back, which landed me back at the doctor’s office. An MRI revealed that I had a labrum tear in my hip, degenerative disks in back which were my L4 and L5, and tenditinis in my butt and hamstrings. I was a wreck and heart-broken. There was no amount of rest I could give my back or hip. Both injuries DO NOT HEAL. No one understood what I was going though. So many people said, “Oh just rest your body, you are doing too much.” But what no one understood was that the damage was done and no amount of rest would make this go away.
I was 6 weeks out from beginning to train for my dream race and I was in so much pain. With all the other running injuries I’ve had in my life, I only felt pain when I ran. To feel chronic pain was something I had never experienced before. I work as personal trainer. It hurt just to do my job, a job that I love and I’m so passionate about. I was terrified because every time I would demonstrate a squat to a client, it would hurt my hip. My hip would ache when I tried to fall asleep at night and a nagging pain when I would walk to work in the morning. I became very depressed. How could the thing I loved to do so much become a burden to my life? I wondered if it would even be possible to run again without pain. I was beginning to come to terms with that fact that Boston would be my last marathon, since labrum tears don’t heal.
The doctor said people can do surgery for this type of injury but most of the time it doesn’t end up helping. Which would likely be my case. I would need to do physical therapy and strengthen my hip. I took a month off of running. Four days a week I focused on strengthening my hips and core through pilates and strength training in the weight room. I visited with my physical therapist, Dan at Bespoke Treatments, once a week. There was a giant wall in front of my dream of running Boston, and since I couldn’t get around it, I was going to break through it.
Once I started marathon training, there were weeks that I went to PT twice because I was dealing with compensation issues from other areas of my body due to my hip issues. I would sob my way to Dan’s office and sit on the table holding back more tears. Each week he would tell me everything was going to be ok and my body was showing progress and becoming more resilient. He was right. The pain went from being chronic to minor discomfort when I would run. It was still there; it didn’t go away. He would stretch me out, grind away at my legs and back with graston tools, and then do a series of electric shock therapy.
My body only felt comfortable running three days a week. I had to do a lot of cross training to keep my heart rate up, which consisted of rowing, aqua jogging, and elliptical. This was by far the most humbling marathon training cycle I had been through. Part of me wanted to just give up. Heck I already earned my way into Boston. Why put myself through this. I could just “run” the race. Surely I would get to the finish line, even if I had to crawl. But that wasn’t who God created me to be. He made me a fearless fighter! I prayed and I fought. I had a choice I could be bitter or better and I choose to be better. I refused to let the injuries get in my way. Day in and day out I trained with my heart.
I even made big changes in my nutrition, making sure to eat foods that prevented inflammation in my body and helped to promote healing from the inside so I could perform at my best on the outside. I share this with you to set the stage for the rest of this novel because after four months of running in pain because of my labrum tear, degenerative disks in my back, followed by a hamstring strain during training, I was ready. On April 18th, I experienced a miracle in Boston.
My entire family came to Boston to watch me race. My sister Vanessa and her husband flew in from San Francisco. My parents flew in from Michigan. My older brother drove 18 hours from Michigan with his girlfriend and their four children.
My best childhood friend, Meredith, flew in from Michigan. Two of my dearest friends Janet and Aldee flew in from NYC. My youngest brother lived in Boston because he attends school there. I felt so much love. This was the largest personal cheering squad that ever attended one of my races. I wanted to perform at my best.
Dinner at Legal Seafoods was the highlight of the weekend. I truly valued those moments, since we all live in different parts of the country. It’s very difficult to see each other all at the same time. Boston brought us together.
I choose seafood because I wanted salmon, spinach, mashed potatoes and brown rice. As I wrote earlier, I had made some major changes in my diet and this was one of them. I stopped doing the traditional pasta carb load. I loaded up on salmon because it’s filled with omega 3’s, and studies have shown that it prevents inflammation in the body. Spinach and dark green leafy vegetables have many minerals and vitamin K to build strong bones.
My very talented sister designed a custom blue and yellow t-shirt for everyone in my family to wear on race day. It had my name on the front and all the previous marathons I had ran on the back.
Rise and shine: The morning of the race
We stayed right outside the finish line at the Fairmont Copley hotel. All the running Goddess’s were staying there too. My husband, Julian, thought I was nuts because I pretty much tripped over my own two feet trying to get a photo with Para-Olympian Tatyana McFadden.
Then I became a little stalker-ish chasing 2nd place finisher of the US Olympic Trials Desiree Linden, when she was having lunch in the hotel lobby restaurant. And can you believe the morning of the marathon as I was riding down the hotel elevator, the winner of the US Olympic Marathon trials Amy Hastings just strolled right into the elevator to ride with me!
The night before a marathon is like Christmas eve when you are seven years old. You toss and turn the entire night with one eye open. My plan was to sleep until 6 am, but I woke up to the sound of fire trucks and volunteers prepping for the big day. It was 4:30 am and I lied there reflecting on the journey leading up to that morning; the past four months dealing with a labrum tear, degenerative disks in my back, and a hamstring strain. Tears streaming down my face and softly whimpering so as to not wake up Julian. I thought about three years earlier when I missed the BQ by 34 seconds and how I had sobbed in bed because I wasn’t good enough. Now, here I was, crying tears of joy living my dream of running in the Boston Marathon. Don’t ever give up on your goals and dreams. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.
My husband spoiled me that morning by letting me get room service. I appreciated that because I could slowly get ready, read my morning devotional, and stretch out my hips and back. I had 2 scrambled eggs, 2 bananas, 2 pieces of wheat toast, a glass of OJ and a cup of green tea. I brought my own almond butter to put on the toast. I had a 10:50 start time and the last thing I wanted was to feel hungry during the marathon.
The Boston Common and the bus ride to Hopkington
Butterflies bounced up and down in my belly as soon as I saw that row of yellow school buses along the Boston Commons. This is it! I’m HERE! I’m actually getting on the bus to Hopkinton. I hadn’t been this excited to get on a school bus since my first day of school!
I met my Central Park Track Club teammate, Jena. Ironically, we were both in Wave 3 Corral 2, which made me happy because I didn’t want to be alone. The bus ride felt long. All I could think about was that I had to run all the way back. We were welcomed to the entrance of Hopkinton Middle School by a large blue and yellow sign that said, “Welcome to Athlete’s Village.” I looked up at the roof slightly frightened by the snipers with gigantic loaded machine guns strapped a crossed their chest. I swallowed hard recalling the events of the 2013 Boston marathon, feeling sad.
On your mark, get set, go: The starting line
It took a while to get to the starting line. Hopkinton has that small town feel of where I grew up in Michigan. We walked down a long suburban street lined up with gates on both sides. It just kept going on and on, and I really needed to go to the bathroom again. I was stressing out! Wait, I take that back…the sun was actually concerning me more. I could feel the heat on my back and there wasn’t a single cloud to shelter us runners from the sun’s strong rays. There was a large orange tent with volunteers squirting mounds of skin screen into the hands of runners. Jena and I took some. I anxiously rubbed it on my neck and shoulders feeling myself getting more nervous and recited a mantra I use when running that is actually a scripture in the Bible. “Greater is He that is in me” -1 John 4:4
Weather is the one thing we can’t control on marathon day. But we can control our outlook on it. I didn’t want it to distract me. I just remember that God was bigger than the sun and that His Spirit lived in me. I believed I would be greater and stronger than the power of the sun that day. We finally made it to our last port-o-potty station. Thankfully, there wasn’t a line. Then used my trigger point ball one last time to roll out my glutes, hips, and IT bands. I took one last honey stinger gummy, drank one last chug of my of water bottle filled with Nuun, and then ate half a bite of a tangerine that a local spectator handed me. I set my watch and gave Jena a hug. Finally the gun went off. It was show time!
We were herded cattle bunched up on a very narrow street that went right into a down hill. That first mile was slow. Jena and I were zipping around people to settle into our pace. There wasn’t any trees to shield us from the sun after the 5K mark. The sweat was beginning to drip down our backs. Just before reaching the 10K mark, I looked down at my Garmin. I really hadn’t been looking at it because Jena was shouting out our pace. It had lost the satellite and was in the “save mode.” A few profane words came out of my mouth. I was so upset. I quickly pushed it back on. With Jena next to me I was able to calculate that my Garmin was a quarter mile off at the next mile marker. At mile 9, Jena and I parted ways and that’s when I turned on my ipod going into my zone, and really settled into my pace. I was feeling good, really good. This was my race and I was going to slay it!
I just took it all in. Remembering the advice that I had received from so many people in the days leading up to the race. Have fun and take in the moment. Yes, I was racing but I didn’t want to regret not taking in this day. Especially because I had viewed this as my last marathon. I looked all around me at the smiling faces and the people chanting, “ You got this!” I was overwhelmed by the cheers that pierced my ears from the girls of Wellesley College. Their screams over-powered my headphones. They wrote the most unforgettable signs such as, “kiss me I’m a virgin!” And yes, they were excepting kisses from gross sweaty marathoners.
Everything was going well. That’s when the wind came and blew my adorable pink Adidas Boston Marathon cap off my head! I also had a power bar gel tucked in my hat. I was so upset I turned around to go back for it. Thankfully no one ran into me. This was a big discouragement for me and I became a bit distracted. I kept looking at my watch then trying to re-calucate what my time “really was.” My A goal was 3:15 and my B goal was anything faster than 3:30 because that was my previous personal best. It was about this time that I was beginning to feel like my goal was about to go out the window.
That’s when I saw Christina, an inspiring woman I had met at the Kara Goucher Podium retreat in October. I saw her before the race and she shared her goal time of 3:16. I thought at this point I would be very happy with 3:16. She looked very strong and was moving fast. I just said to myself hang on to her coat-tails. I stared at the back of her head and just moved with her. At Mile 16 I knew there was a massive down hill and, boy, did we sail down that hill together.
I was anxiously getting nervous for what was to come…the Newton Hills, but super excited because I knew my family was waiting for me there. The night before we made a plan that my family would be at each mile leading all the way up to Heart Break Hill. I would need to look strong and be camera ready. There is nothing worse than seeing ugly race photos! This was my time to shine. I drummed up all my memories of training on the hills of Central Park; Cathill, the Three Sisters, and the biggest bad boy of them all, Harlem Hill. It was time to show I had done the work! With God and my family by my side, I was ready to crush the Newton Hills.
At Mile 17.5, I saw my sister Vanessa and her husband Josh and my brother Petey.
At Mile 18.5, my brother Chris, his girlfriend Diana and their four children.
At Mile 19.5, my parents.
At Mile 20.5 My husband Julian and my friends Janet and Aldee.
The biggest jaw dropping moment was mile 21.5. Here, I was thinking I had seen the last of anyone I knew. I was barreling down the last of the Newton Hills when I noticed these huge black signs that said “Latinas in Motion Run the World.” In my mind, I’m thinking “Am I seeing things?!” The signs lifted up higher where I could see the smiles of some of the most inspiring women I know from New York City.
Eight women from Latinas in Motion where there in the flesh cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs for me. Their faces lit up the crowd.Their screams pierced the air. I was on the exact opposite side of the road and all I could think about was getting around all the runners in front of me so that I could touch these women. Have you seen those signs at marathons that say, “touch here for power?” Well, touching Latinas In Motion for power is what I needed to finish the last 5.2 miles of this race.
A flood of energy and emotions came spilling out of me. Trying to smile, but holding back tears. I was in complete shock. “Holy Smokes!” these ladies came here from NYC to “watch lil ole’ ME run?!” They had jobs, spouses and children! This was the middle of the day on a Monday afternoon. Here they were, in Boston, watching me run. This was one of the truest acts of kindness I had ever experienced in my life. Latinas In Motion is a non-profit organization that promotes and empowers hispanic women to live healthy and fit lifestyles. I have become acquainted with many of the members in NYC, but the group is a movement that exists across the country. For daily fitness inspiration, follow these ladies on Facebook or Instagram.
After seeing Latinas In Motion, I was now on my own…no voice to hear or face to see. I had been on such a rush from seeing and hearing my family and friends. I hadn’t even acknowledged how my body was feeling. Fatigue was now creeping in. My legs, impacted from the downhill and rolling uphills, were beginning to feel like jelly. This is when the spirit and the people of Boston showed true. They were cheering for me. Screaming “Boston! Boston! Boston!” All I could do was smile at every person I could, making eye contact with them, and just give away my smile. I felt like I was the star of a parade. You could cue the song, “A Moment Like This” by Kelly Clarkston because I was literally having my moment.
I looked up ahead of me; finally the infamous “CITGO SIGN,” the sign that I had read so many stories about from runners who had experienced Boston before me. I was now getting my turn to run past it and say to myself “1 mile to go!” With all my heart and every ounce of strength left in my body, I finally turned right on Hereford Street and left on Boylston right into the finish line. I was now a Boston Marathoner. Legs were toast, but overall I felt fine. The greatest miracle was I had NO PAIN anywhere in my body. This was the best I had ever felt after any marathon. Overwhelmed with joy, I cried baby tears and then smiled a lot because I finished 11 minutes faster than my previous marathon with a new personal best 3:19. What I feared the most never happened.
Making it to the finish line
The miracle is this: with faith and hard work, I ran my fastest marathon with no pain, despite having injuries that don’t heal. In life, we are placed in situations that we can’t change, but we can change our attitude and outlook on the situation. We are the only ones in control of that. My CPTC teammate, Jena, said, “perhaps the injury is a blessing.” I rolled my eyes at that comment, but she was right. I had to completely change the way I train and run now, but at 33 years old I’m faster and stronger than ever.